Indoor Navigation Is (Another) Next Big Thing

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Both Microsoft and iRobot - the company that went from bomb disposal robots to cleaning your home - are looking at ways to create maps of indoor spaces. While their efforts are taking different paths, it's clear that mapping homes and buildings has huge opportunities but is not without privacy challenges.

Microsoft's Path

A recent article at the Microsoft Research Blog. While mapping location by using proximity to wireless access points isn't new, Microsoft's approach takes a different approach.

Traditional navigation systems work by determining where you are and then plotting a path to your intended destination. Microsoft's researchers decided that knowing where you are is less important. What you really want to know s how to get to where you want to be.

With modern smartphones being filled with lots of different sensors, and buildings being filled wth structures that create magnetic fields, they have come up with a way to creating an indoor navigation system based on the magnetic sensor data gathered from different locations.

They use crowd-sourced data to create their maps with people recording their paths through indoor spaces using an Android app.

The Roomba Way

Roomba's iRobot vacuum cleaners are one of the coolest pieces of home tech ever sold. One of the things a Roomba can do is create an indoor map of your home. iRobot is looking for ways to monetise that data according to a Reuters report.

The company figures it can sell that data to other companies that make smart home appliances. By selling or sharing indoor maps to our homes, other device makers can hook into the data to create their own products and services.

Of course, providing people with detailed maps of our homes - not just the walls and doors but where furniture is located, lighting conditions and other interesting information - opens up a bunch of interesting privacy questions.

Don't forget new mesh networking gear

Homes and offices are starting to see new WiFi gear come in. It seems the days of the single WiFi router are under threat with new systems such as the Linksys Velop and Netgear Orbi, which use multiple access points to blackest your home or office with WiFi.

It would not take a lot for those systems to be used as mapping tools - something we already see with commercial WIFI gear that I used in stores to locate and track customers or help people navigate shopping malls.

The neat thing about what we are seeing is that, unlike GPS and GLONASS - which required massive funding - these systems are relatively low cost. Now that outdoor mapping has been conquered, companies are looking inwards for ways to map the spaces we live, work and play in.

The applications are myriad. Aside from the obvious ones like helping people navigatethrough shopping malls being able to accurately map indoor spaces dynamically can help warehouses plot optimal paths for pick runs that take into account traffic or temporary obstacles.

They can be used to guide new employees, assist people that are visually impaired, or even help parents find lost children if coupled with inexpensive beacons.

Are there applications of this technology for your business? How could you use it?


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